Monday, September 17, 2012

When is it more than a patch?

Brooklyn and Talia stem from a long tradition of Girl Scouting. Their mother was a Girl Scout, their grandmother was a scout, even their great-grandmother. And so, each time they don their Girl Scout vests, I smile inside about this rich heritage.
Friday night we celebrated scouting with a Bridging/Investiture/Rededication Ceremony for the entire service unit. Here's Talia "investing" as a Daisy to a future in scouting.
Brooklyn was recognized with a few fellow troop members for earning her "Summit Award."
And here's Brooklyn, bridging to Brownies.
Good thing she got a new vest! She was all out of space for patches on her old vest.
In fact, she had so many patches that we had to start sewing them on the inside! Meet Brooklyn the flasher.
Which brings me to my next point. Mind if I rant a bit? Now please bear in mind that this rant isn't against Girl Scouting in particular. Rather, it touches upon the larger societal ills of excess, shallow praise, and entitlement.

We have been extremely fortunate to connect with an active troop that does all sorts of fun things together. In addition to working on specific awards, we've done everything from bowling to practicing etiquette at the Olive Garden. So here's my gripe. Shouldn't participation in these activities be intrinsically rewarding enough? Why do we need to give girls a patch to celebrate every little thing they do? Tie-dying T-shirts. Cool idea. A tie-dye patch? Definitely over the top. After all, the girls already got to take home the shirt. We have water party patches, snow tubing patches, movie night patches, art museum patches, caroling get the idea. And while most of the Moms are thrilled, I'm concerned that we're sending our daughters the wrong lesson. While the vests may be cute now, do we really want to instill such a sense of expectancy? By recognizing every tiny thing, aren't we devaluing the "real" awards that require substantial time and commitment? And for pete's sake, isn't there some value in my time as a mother? I don't know about you, but I have better things to do than to spend hours on end playing with patches. If anybody finds an "I-sew-on-my-own-awards" patch, there's something I'd celebrate!

Yet as much as I disagree philosophically, I can't say much until I'm willing to match the dedication and time commitment of our fearless troop leader. Still, this problem isn't isolated to Girl Scouting. Everywhere I turn, be it in school, sports, or the community, I find kids being showered with shallow praise and spoiled with trinkets for small endeavors. Despite our good intentions, I feel like many kids are smothering from self-esteem.

What to do? How do you shelter your children from this onslaught of entitlement?


Erin said...

I completely agree with you, Kara. When we offer incentives, kids lose interest in the activity we are incentivizing (real word?). I think there's a chapter on this in Nurture Shock.

Julie L said...

Brent and I are Bear Den Leaders for Cub Scouting. Fortunately, the Scouting program hasn't got quite so crazy overboard in patches, but we still have one little guy who, if it doesn't earn him something tangible like a patch or arrow, has no interest in doing the activity. Like, has he done one thing to earn his Faith in God? No. But the mother (and in reality, this is all about the mother) is pushing for every other patch we can do: Conservation, Leave No Trace, etc., etc.

Those are great things to teach our boys, but you are right: I feel like the push isn't for what he can learn or do, but what he can earn.

The really sad thing about all the shallow praise is the fact that it does just the opposite of building self esteem for our children. When awards come easily, you are dead right, they become valueless. I am completely in your court on that.

Now, that said, it still looks like you've got a couple of fun little Girl Scouts who are having a great time in the program. And that's always a good thing. You do so many great things with them, I suspect they're going to stay very well grounded.

candice said...

Think of the girl scout patches as scrap booking---they are building "patches" of memories. You can re-write the narrative, make it more suitable for how you see things, and the worries you have. Don't box yourself in, if you cringe every time the girls receive a patch, you will end up resenting the program that dispenses them. Looks like the girls are enjoying themselves, hopefully you can find some silver lining too (with how the program is orchestrated) xoxo.

Brian and Tonya said...

I don't have any ideas, but you raise an interesting point. On top of that, doesn't that take away from the thrill of actually earning the patch by learning something hard? Hmmm, I'll definatly have to think about this as my little guy grows up and if you have any ideas, send them my way.

jennybhill said...

I was thinking of this post again recently because Spencer has just learned to ride his bike. I recognized in his initial attempts that the joy of riding was going to be its own reward and was surprised at how much I still had impulses to encourage him with some kind of extrinsic reward. Seems like there are times when the incentives are appropriate but agree that there shouldn't be such an overload that the incentive and the skill loses meaning. I like Candice's idea of "patches of memories" in the case of Girl Scouts.